In the 1800s there was one sport that captured the minds of Americans. It wasn’t baseball, though it was starting to gain popularity, it was horse racing.
Up and down the coastline, our state was booming with different race tracks but did you know Cape May used to have their own?
Today we are going to find the lost Cape May Race Track.
Horses had always been a part of Cape May’s history. When Capt Mey first discovered the point in 1621, horses were already here thanks to the Lenape Indians who lived and worked on the land.
As the generations moved on and the area changed from Cape Island Borough into Cape Island City and finally Cape May, horses were used everywhere from means of transportation all the way to shipping.
The Lost Cape May Race Track
Surrounding the city of Cape May were many smaller towns. Some of which you won’t see on the maps today.
Two of those towns were Eldredge and the other South Cape May. Both of these towns, which were located in what is now West Cape May, had some extremely bad misfortune.
It was in this area where the Mt. Vernon Hotel once stood.
At the time of its construction in 1853, Mt. Vernon was considered the largest hotel in the world. It cost $125,000 to build which in today’s money is roughly 4.5 Million.
The hotel had 432 rooms and was able to accommodate 2,100 people.
It was a popular vacation spot before the Civil War. Unfortunately this hotel, just like the future of many houses down here, caught fire on Sept 5th, 1856, and burnt down.
Authorities suspected that the cause of the fire was arson. Due to the owners not having insurance on the building they were never able to rebuild.
After many years of being abandoned, the Neptune Land Company was created in 1882 to redevelop the land.
Developers, Theodore Reger, ThomasWilliamson, and Albert Little, came together to find a way to make the area more attractive for visitors.
The Lost Cape May Race Track
Since they had vast land to work with they decided to build a racetrack. They founded the West Cape May Improvement Company to develop streets and its lands.
In building out the lands they took 80 acres, today’s Columbia Avenue, Fourth Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, and Stevens Street, and built what was called the “Cape May Driving Park Company.”
It was an oval track that could house 3,000 people and feature a lake in the middle with a fountain. Next to the property, they built cricket and baseball fields.
On July 28, 1888, the track opened.
The New York Times said this about the opening day; “The inaugural running races of the Cape May Driving Park Association were run this afternoon. The weather was all that could be desired.” That first day of racing there were over 3,000 people in attendance.
By early August, the track was so popular that the Pennsylvania Railroad ran special service between Philadelphia and Cape May on race days.
At one point, the Railroad was considering adding an extension of the Cape May city line to the racetrack.
However, as the racing went on, the driving park did not enjoy the success predicted by the planners.
By the following year, the race only saw about 300 people in the grandstand. According to the New York Times, that last year was named the “dull season.”
Without the promised rail link, the Cape May Driving Park lost steam.
So what happened? If was so popular where is it today?
In the video below we will break down what happened to the Cape May Driving Park and where it is today.